African American Festival keeps beat, even without its leader

 

Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery

DOVER – The Sankofa African Dancers and Drummers had the crowd buzzing as they performed on the main stage in front of Legislative Hall, dozens of vendors were on the mall selling African art and fabrics and the smells of many diverse foods were wafting through the air.

The 26th annual “Positively Dover” African American Festival turned out to be another hit on a bright and sunny Saturday, drawing hundreds of people to the Legislative Mall to learn about African culture and heritage.

However, there was one person missing – former Dover City Councilman Reuben Salters, who was unable to participate in the annual morning procession around the mall with local officials, organizers and the Sankofa African Dance Company, due to health issues.

Don Blakey, a former state representative, who helped Mr. Salters build the cultural event almost 30 years ago, said the celebration had to go on.

“Reuben knows that full well that it has to be passed on to other people for it to continue uninterrupted,” Mr. Blakey said. “He’s sick, but I’m reporting back to him every now and then saying, ‘Hey, this went well, and this is what we can do better next time, and so on and so forth. …’

“The African American Festival is a magnet to start and create other things that Reuben and I and a couple of other people envisioned years ago.”

Several dignitaries such as U.S. Rep. John Carney, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and others were on hand to offer their support for the festival.

However, it was Dennis Minus who brought the most noise by leading the morning processional with his umbrella and whistle, which he would blow while pointing at people scattered along the route as the parade made his way by.

“This is beautiful. It’s a tradition for us,” Mr. Minus said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, around 20 years. We started our first festival with the procession and the umbrella is deeply rooted in [African] tradition.

“We take a little bit of this and a little bit of that from all over Africa and try to make it all work. We’re just trying to honor all of the richness that our culture provides.”

City councilman David Anderson walked in the procession. He said the African American Festival is an event that he looks forward to every summer.

“I like the fact that it seems to bring everybody together and it’s a celebration for the entire community,” Mr. Anderson said.

He did note that Mr. Salters’ presence was missed.

“He’s a great man and he’s a visionary, not just for the festival, but for everything including the Inner City Cultural League,” Mr. Anderson said. “He helps contribute greatly to the best of Dover and the best of our community.”

More than 100 vendors sold their wares and others provided information regarding their business, talked about health issues, offered massages and many other things. A bouncy castle in the middle of Legislative Mall gave the little ones something to do.

The food stands kept extremely busy, especially at lunch time, when the line for the popular fried fish platter from the Bethel AME Church in Chestertown, Md., went down the brick pathway on the south side of the mall.

There were performances by blues musician Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark, the Wilmington Youth Jazz Band, Philadelphia Freedom Gospel Choir, and others.

Bessie Lively, a resident of Dover, said she was left wanting more. In her eyes, it just wasn’t enough.

“I think it’s beautiful and worthwhile, but there’s just not enough participation,” Ms. Lively said. “When I say that, I mean people that come to see the wonderful performances. It’s a beautiful activity but it could be better attended.”

She said the event provides a unique way to have fun and learn at the same time.

“It’s good to always come and get enlightened more of the knowledge of the meaning of what all of the activities are all about and the participants that participate in it,” Ms. Lively said, “because a lot of our young children have no idea of what their ethnic heritage is and what it’s about. It’s a little under-processed.”

For Mr. Minus, the African American Festival holds a special place in his heart. He said it’s an event that is about people.

“This is it for me. This is family,” he said. “I came here from New York City years ago. One of the reasons I stayed was because my father was living in Camden and I stayed at his house overnight and woke up the next morning and I didn’t hear any sirens.

“I heard the Amish buggy coming down the street with horses and I said, ‘Hey, I could get used to that.’”

And just like that, he was off tweeting his whistle, helping the Sankofa drummers keep the beat and making sure a Dover tradition stays alive.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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